By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
With the ensemble providing the entirety of its accompaniment, the sound no longer has the lush orchestration of the 1979 Broadway production, or of Burton’s film. It sounds more like the Tiger Lillies — the band that accompanies a similarly macabre children’s play, Shockheaded Peter. Although she also doubles on keyboard and flute, Katrina Yaukey’s Italian con artist, Pirelli, spends most of the play with an accordion strapped to her, and its sound tilts the production from blockbuster musical toward cabaret.
Gone also is the original mechanistic set of moving platforms that suggested the fledgling industrial age. Doyle stages the action more like a concert performance, against a backdrop of vertical, slatted planks through which seeps, with every murder, a red glow from Richard G. Jones’ lighting design. Upon their deaths, each of the deceased dons a white robe rimmed with blood, and continues to occupy the stage — a visual effect that contributes to the ghostly, ghastly moral dimension of unrestrained vengeance. Doyle’s theatricality extends to the death scenes: no contorting corpses here. With each slit throat, Mrs. Lovett, from a distance, pours out a bucket of blood — a device that’s both lurid and elegant, pointing, as in Greek tragedy, to the aftereffect of the bloody deed rather than to the deed itself.
The richness of Hess’ and Judy Kaye’s voices, plus, more tellingly, the layers of wit that they convey so clearly, bring an intelligence and emotion to this production. Even with — maybe because of — their characters’ pathological actions, Hess and Kaye (who plays Mrs. Lovett) summon little twisted smiles, like winks, cluing us in that the flames of mayhem and heartbreak needn’t singe a healthy sense of humor.
Like Beckett, Sondheim has been studying the incremental slippage when love, and life, inch toward their end. Perhaps it’s the absurdity of it, woven into such visual and musical beauty, that makes that inevitability just a bit easier to bear, like bracing to say farewell. Sweeney sings it best: “Wake up, Johanna, another bright-red day; we learn, Johanna, to say ... goodbye.”
SWEENEY TODD | Music and Lyrics by STEPHEN SONDHEIM, book by HUGH WHEELER, from an adaptation by CHRISTOPHER BOND | Directed and designed by JOHN DOYLE | CENTER THEATRE GROUP at the AHMANSON THEATRE, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn. | Through April 6 | (213) 628-2772